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Despite writ­ing about Magic the Gathering on a week­ly basis I wasn’t actu­al­ly a fan of it when I was younger. Like many, I spent much of my child­hood col­lect­ing Pokémon cards, and off and on I’ve added to this col­lec­tion through­out the years. It means my col­lec­tion is both exten­sive and eclec­tic in its mix­ture of cards.

Most peo­ple remem­ber the clas­sic incar­na­tion of the Pokémon TCG; the era in which it was print­ed by Wizards of the Coast out­side of Japan*. Here in the UK, they were sold pret­ty much every­where. To my US audi­ence being able to get trad­ing cards in stores like Walmart or Target is noth­ing unusu­al, but here in the UK that was kind of a nov­el. Pokémon cards where every­where dur­ing the peri­od they were a full blow craze; their ubiq­ui­ty added to their pop­u­lar­i­ty. I know I wouldn’t have bought as much as I did if you couldn’t get them from lit­er­al­ly every cor­ner shop for a peri­od of time.

pokemon sideAs quick­ly as they explod­ed, they seemed to dis­ap­pear from the mass-market. Whenever I look over an old col­lec­tion there is a peri­od of peter­ing out some­where around where the Team Rocket expan­sion came out and cer­tain­ly before the Gym Heroes and Gym Challenge era — a peri­od I enjoyed immense­ly as a col­lec­tor and fan of the games. It was nice to have cards attached to a rec­og­niz­able gym lead­er. Even if some of the choic­es seemed like a stretch at the time.

I remem­ber show­ing a friend of mine who was inter­est­ed in how Pokémon cards had devel­oped over the years an e-reader card with the weird yel­low striped bar for use with an ill-fated Gameboy advance periph­er­al, and he looked like I’d just shown her an alien arte­fact. People get very attached to their era of col­lect­ing some­thing, like those intol­er­a­ble bores who yam­mer on about the “supe­ri­or­i­ty” of the clas­sic board­er of Magic the Gathering cards.

The odd thing is, the way I col­lect Pokémon is the oppo­site way I col­lect of Magic the Gathering. I’ll seek out a Magic card main­ly for its mechan­ics; I want to build up a col­lec­tion to play with. I’m not as both­ered about com­plet­ing sets. That’s a nice bonus, but it isn’t my focus. There are a lot of cards I sim­ply have no inter­est because they are com­plete­ly unplayable.

Conversely I col­lect Pokémon cards pure­ly based on whether a set will look nice in my binder or not, and I will be a com­ple­tion­ist when it comes to a set. This is part of the rea­son I have start­ed col­lect­ing almost pure­ly Japanese cards as they tend to have more of the art vis­i­ble, they have bet­ter foiling/holographic effects, and are gen­er­al­ly more pleas­ing to the eye. They are also sold in small­er sets with a bet­ter ratio of ultra-rare to common/uncommon cards.

Since I’m not as both­ered about val­ue and playa­bil­i­ty, I’m much more like­ly to crack open packs of Pokémon cards. Especially since you can get a Japanese boost­er box for around £20-£30 depend­ing on the box. I guess you could say I’m much more “casu­al” about Pokémon — more easy-going. Nintendo have always been good about keep­ing the­se cards in pocket-money price range, and the after­mar­ket most­ly reflects that bar­ring secret rare cards, and full art cards.

For those unini­ti­at­ed, Pokémon has a slight­ly con­fus­ing array of rar­i­ties and vari­ants of each card; Common, Uncommon, Rare, Holographic, Reverse Holographic, EX, Full Art, Secret Rare, and all kinds of vari­ants speci­fic to their respec­tive sets. Like the now ludi­crous­ly col­lec­table crys­tal type cards and the recent intro­duc­tion of the “half-art” cards. This some­times feels like a gim­mick, but most­ly I think it keeps col­lect­ing and open­ing packs new and inter­est­ing as new ideas are tried out. It also makes most packs feel spe­cial. Well, apart from when you get lots of Trainer cards. Trainers are bor­ing and always have been.

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I’ve not played an actu­al game of Pokémon in more than a decade; I know how to play and I’ve even looked up the var­i­ous rule changes over the years to stay in touch, but it just doesn’t hold any appeal to me. Let’s face it, the Pokémon TCG is vast­ly mechan­i­cal­ly infe­ri­or to some­thing like Magic the Gathering from a design per­spec­tive. In many ways that lack of being behold­en to com­pet­i­tive play means there is less rigid­i­ty in aspects of design. Especially in mod­ern sets, there is a freer approach to art direc­tion and a more var­ied style. The last few sets of Pokémon have had art rang­ing from abstract hand-painted, to 3D mod­elled, to dig­i­tal­ly paint­ed, and even a clay­ma­tion aes­thet­ic.

I’m glad they’ve gone back to the way cards looked in the eras I enjoyed most. The Neo sets even today boast some pret­ty impres­sive art­work with the same range of styles. It’s often over­looked, but there is a lot of great art out there we will only ever see through the tiny win­dow of the­se cards; it’s a bit of a shame there is no repos­i­to­ry of the full-size art­work for the very best of the­se works. You could have a Pokémon art exhi­bi­tion based on this back-catalogue span­ning decades. Many of us have shoe­box­es full of the­se things. When we’re chil­dren we don’t give a sec­ond thought to the work that went into cre­at­ing the­se strange paper objects.

I sup­pose a lot of peo­ple would be ashamed of being an adult col­lec­tor of Pokémon cards; then again I sup­pose some peo­ple still think the same thing of adults still play­ing video games. I know a lot of avid adult col­lec­tors, but I still wouldn’t intro­duce myself as a “Collector of Japanese Pokémon cards” unless I was in a par­tic­u­lar crowd.

Whoever is buy­ing them, I’m kind of glad the Pokémon Trading Card Game is still a thing. And a thing that has large­ly kept in touch with its roots as a being aimed (and priced) towards younger play­ers. One of the­se days I should actu­al­ly redeem some of those code-cards you get in the English lan­guage packs and build a shame­less­ly opti­mal net-deck and crush the dreams of some chil­dren.

*As a side note the fact that Wizards of the Coast used to man­u­fac­ture Pokémon cards means that new­er packs of Magic the Gathering have the same new-card smell as old packs of Pokémon cards, whilst new­er packs of Pokémon don’t. This seems like an unusu­al obser­va­tion but your sense of smell is very close­ly linked to mem­o­ry, so if you loved col­lect­ing Pokémon cards back in the day then this smell will prob­a­bly trans­port you back to those times. One day I will fig­ure out how to bot­tle new card smell because it is one of the most evoca­tive smells in the world to long-time col­lec­tors.


https://supernerdland.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/pokemon-header.jpghttps://supernerdland.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/pokemon-header-150x150.jpgJohn SweeneyTrading Card GamesTraditional GamesPokémonDespite writ­ing about Magic the Gathering on a week­ly basis I wasn’t actu­al­ly a fan of it when I was younger. Like many, I spent much of my child­hood col­lect­ing Pokémon cards, and off and on I’ve added to this col­lec­tion through­out the years. It means my col­lec­tion is…
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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in engi­neer­ing. He writes long-form edi­to­ri­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games media and inter­net cul­ture. He also does the occa­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our inter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven media and sus­pi­cious of unac­cou­table author­i­ty but always hope­ful for change.